Paul Cézanne The Bather c. 1885

  • Not on view

Cézanne “was my one and only master!” Pablo Picasso once declared. He, along with many artists, was inspired by Cézanne’s posthumous retrospective at the 1907 Salon d’Automne. The Bather features many of the hallmarks of Cézanne’s practice that captivated their imagination: distinct gestural passages of layered brushwork, a controlled palette, and a relationship between figure and background that seems flat yet also permeable. Cézanne’s meditations on space, solidity, and color—and the possibilities for their manipulation and abstraction that the act of placing pigment on canvas naturally introduced—helped inform Cubism’s break with tradition.

Gallery label from 2024
Additional text

In the 1870s, Cezanne began depicting scenes of bathers—groups of men and women lounging, swimming, and standing in and around wooded watering holes. In this work, he focused on the figure of a single young man standing with hands on hips, one foot in front of the other, and eyes downcast. Cezanne admired classical traditions of landscape and portraiture, yet compared with the muscular bodies and idealized proportions of academic painting, this bather appears awkward—both physically ungraceful and psychologically remote. The painting’s unified palette and brushstrokes likewise defy the conventional hierarchy of figure over background: here they are almost interdependent, set apart by the distinct black outline of the bather’s body but also echoing and sometimes dissolving into one another.

The artist began his career as an Impressionist painter, and his work reflects the influence of that movement’s experiments with the optical effects of color. Cezanne, however, was not interested in color’s atmospheric properties, as the Impressionists were, but instead explored its qualities of solidity and space, trying, as he said, “to render perspective solely by means of color.” Whereas the Impressionists painted from life, Cezanne based this bather on a photograph of a man posed in a studio, transferring him in paint to an outdoor scene.

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)

In The Bather, Paul Cézanne depicts an adolescent boy mid-step in a watery landscape. Though the male figure was among the most traditional artistic subjects, the way in which Cézanne represented the young figure in his painting broke with precedent. His bather appears pensive, even anxious, his body soft, slightly out of proportion, and decidedly unheroic. He is set into ambiguous, semi-abstract surroundings that offer no firm sense of place. And like his surroundings, the bather himself seems anonymous. By stripping his painting of specificity, Cézanne conveys a sense of the ambiguity or uncertainty that for many people typified the experience of modern life.

The Bather is not allegorical; it does not tell a story or convey an idea. Instead, the composition became an outlet for Cézanne to explore new ways of painting, to loosely apply paint and develop his composition out of visible gestures and brushstrokes. It reflects his modern sensibility, influenced by the new understanding of vision and light developed by the Impressionists. Additionally, Cézanne painted from a photograph of a model posing in a studio rather than from a real life scene—a novel technique utilizing a thoroughly modern invention.

Oil on canvas
50 x 38 1/8" (127 x 96.8 cm)
Lillie P. Bliss Collection. Conservation was made possible by the Bank of America Art Conservation Project
Object number
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

We have identified these works in the following photos from our exhibition history.

How we identified these works

In 2018–19, MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos. That project has concluded, and works are now being identified by MoMA staff.

If you notice an error, please contact us at [email protected].

Provenance Research Project

This work is included in the Provenance Research Project, which investigates the ownership history of works in MoMA's collection.

Ambroise Vollard, Paris
Prince de Wagram (Alexandre Berthier), Paris (Mar. 21, 1906)
Ambroise Vollard, Paris (Jan. 2, 1907)
Paul Rosenberg, Paris and New York
Marius de Zayas, New York
Lillie P. Bliss, New York;
The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1934)

Per Feilchenfeldt, Walter, Jayne Warman, and David Nash. "Grand baigneur, c. 1885 (FWN 915)." The Paintings, Watercolors and Drawings of Paul Cezanne: An Online Catalogue Raisonné. (retrieved Nov 05, 2021)

Provenance research is a work in progress, and is frequently updated with new information. If you have any questions or information to provide about the listed works, please email [email protected] or write to:

Provenance Research Project
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019


If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

MoMA licenses archival audio and select out of copyright film clips from our film collection. At this time, MoMA produced video cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. All requests to license archival audio or out of copyright film clips should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For access to motion picture film stills for research purposes, please contact the Film Study Center at [email protected]. For more information about film loans and our Circulating Film and Video Library, please visit

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].


This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].